BOH Plantations Sdn Bhd in Malaysia is among only a few tea companies in the world to plant, harvest, process, package and market its own teas. With complete control of their operations, BOH is able to maintain the high quality, distinctive, robust and aromatic highland teas that the company is known for.
World Tea New chat with Caroline Russell, the executive chairman of BOH Plantations Sdn Bhd in Malaysia. Russell is a Malaysian citizen of British ancestry, born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her involvement with the family business began in 1988 when she joined BOH’s marketing department. Later, she was appointed general manager, responsible for downstream operations. In 2002, management of the tea estates was placed under her supervision and, in 2003, Russell assumed the position of CEO.
Question: Hi, Caroline. Thanks for your time! Let’s start by getting to know BOH. What’s unique about BOH’s history and background?
Answer: BOH was pioneered by my grandfather, J.A. Russell, and has been warming the hearts of Malaysians for more than 90 years – nurtured by generations of tea experts devoted to producing teas of exceptional quality, character, aroma and freshness. BOH is a family business that runs in our blood. The business was led by my father, Tristan, for many many years, and I joined after I left university where I had completed a degree in business studies. I didn’t expect at age 22 that I would spend the next 30 years at BOH, but I love it and I’m still here!
Since our start in 1929, BOH has mastered the art of tea from tea bush to tea cup.
Question: What’s BOH’s unique selling point?
Answer: I’d say it’s our passion for tea. We are tea people through and through. We grow it, blend it, pack it and brand it. Not many tea companies in the world are vertically integrated like us. We celebrated our 90th birthday two years ago, and it gave us an opportunity to recognize our “unsung heroes” – the men and women behind the scenes, some of whom have dedicated decades with us and share the passion of making superb teas.
Question: What kind of teas does BOH sell? Where are they available to consumers?
Answer: Some of our most popular teas are: BOH Garden Tea – presented in environmentally friendly pyramid bags; Cameronian Gold Blend Tea – a light, golden color bursting with a rich and evocative aroma; and BOH Black Tea – the contrast of citrus and spice gives this aromatic and piquant blend a uniquely zesty and refreshing note.
Question: What can you tell us about the BOH tea plantation?
Answer: For decades, Cameron Highlands [a district in Pahang, Malaysia] has attracted visitors to its cool jungles, quaint Tudor-style houses, fresh vegetables and fragrant teas. Cameron Highlands is one of the country’s most fertile agricultural spots, possessing all the right attributes for growing outstanding tea, and is situated over 5,000 feet above sea level on the main mountain range of Malaysia. The true character of BOH’s teas is greatly influenced by the conditions at the tea gardens; namely high altitude, low temperatures, abundant rainfall and acidic soil. With amazing landscapes and stunning panoramic views, the tea gardens are truly picturesque.
The BOH Tea Garden is filled with rich history dating back almost a century, BOH Tea Garden is the home of BOH’s first tea factory, its largest and oldest tea garden. The breathtaking-journey to the tea center for a sip of a delicate, rich and fresh brewed tea is a satisfying journey for any tea lover.
BOH also acquired the Sungei Palas Tea Garden in the 1950s. One of the most iconic attractions in Cameron Highlands, the Sungei Palas Tea Garden offers a holistic tea experience against a beautiful backdrop of tea fields as far as the eye can see.
Question: How does BOH help customers enable great tea experiences? And what’s a great tea experience from your perspective?
Answer: BOH invests in the research and development of its harvesting process to improve yields and quality, while constantly discovering new streams of innovation. BOH has been recognized as an award-winning company, receiving many accolades for high standards in product quality, esteemed brand identity and community initiatives.
I believe the best tea experience is one that can be enjoyed not just by the tea’s quality and taste but also with the customer’s knowledge that they are supporting a company that gives back locally and globally.
Question: BOH has a focus on supporting environmental and animal conservation. What can you tell us about that, or how BOH might be different or unique from other tea companies?
Answer: Our commitment to environmental and animal conservation has allowed us to closely collaborate with several environmental NGOs and advocates such as the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC), Global Environment Centre (GEC), and the WWF-Malaysia and Malaysia Nature Society (MNS). Our sustainability initiatives serve to encourage the public to increase conservation efforts within their own communities.
BOH has been at the heart of communities in Malaysia for decades. As we strive to satisfy the palates of our customers with our beloved teas, it is this satisfaction, along with that of our employees that drives us forward. We actively invest in programs and initiatives, with both our public and private partners, to collaborate on specific issues supporting communities in which we serve. We support employees through a range of incentive and reward schemes, and endeavor to make BOH a wonderful and safe place to work.
Question: What do you want the global tea industry to know about tea from Malaysia?
Answer: Malaysia is one of the most vibrant and alluring parts of South East Asia. It is well-known for its fascinating fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures all living in harmony, courtesy of a shared trading history and rich heritage. This diversity translates into an amazing culinary experience for anyone who visits.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia has the perfect conditions for growing tea – namely high altitude, low temperatures, abundant rainfall and acidic soil. Cameron Highlands, the home of BOH, is where 70 percent of all tea in Malaysia is produced.
Question: In terms of consumer tea consumption, what can you tell us about tea drinking in Malaysia? Are there any unique trends or notable developments that we should be aware of, from drinking tea at home to cafes and teahouses?
Answer: Tea is a big part of multicultural and multiethnic Malaysia. Minum petang [afternoon tea], and teh tarik [pulled milk tea at the local mamak joint] are almost institutional. And minum petang and teh tarik sessions are not restricted to afternoons; they can be anytime of the day! Being a Malaysian brand, BOH celebrates International Tea Day annually. More importantly, BOH is present during the country’s Hari Kebangsaan [National Day] with messages of tea being our connection in this diverse culture.
Question: World Tea News has a large audience of tea buyers from the retail sector. Do you sell your teas wholesale to retail outlets, and what’s your message to that audience?
Answer: Yes. We appointed Pinski-Portugal Associates as our food broker, covering the West Coast region. Retailers can also make a purchase online through our B2B site.
We do have a wholesale/B2B module on our U.S. site [https://usa.bohtea.com/b2b/].
Retailers can register a B2B account, which will be manually approved by me. Once approved, they will be able to login to purchase by the cartons at wholesale price.
Question: Has BOH faced any challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: One challenge we’ve faced is having less tea garden visitors due to international travel restrictions. However, thankfully, people still continue to drink tea every day, and most sectors of our business have remained robust.
Question: What’s your best advice for tea companies of all kinds, who might be facing challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: Creating balance in life is a huge challenge. I don’t claim to have the answers, but mindfulness and gratitude have helped me particularly during the uncertainty and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Question: What do you love the most about working in the tea industry?
Answer: Similar to my father and grandfather, my passion is to create well-loved teas. I am grateful that my work at BOH has allowed me to become a recognized leader in the tea industry. Our initiatives to support sustainability and our communities has been just as gratifying.
Question: Do you have a favorite tea?
Answer: To me, choosing a favorite tea is like choosing a favorite child, which is why I always go with, ‘I prefer our variety packs. I get a little of everything!’
Question: Thanks for your time! Last question: What’s the future of BOH Tea?
Answer: BOH will continue to innovate and find new ways to give back and support sustainability. A project I’m very excited about is the installation of a solar power system on the roof of our packing factory. It will go a long way to generate a renewable source of energy for our operations. And of course, to continue to be recognized globally as the masters of tea!
To learn more about BOH, visit BOHTea.com.